“Trapped In A (Wo)Man’s Body”

Okay darlings, let’s get this cleared up, please. Because I’m sick of dealing with this.

You know the whole “woman trapped in a man’s body” / “man trapped in a woman’s body” thing? That is a metaphor.

Okay? Do you have that? Do you understand? I’ll repeat: It’s a metaphor. A simplification. A way of putting transsexuality into terms that are easily explained to a cis person. That is why it exists, that is its job. Helping you understand something very complex (and very alien to your own experiences), in a way that is quick and easy, for contexts where a full and nuanced explanation is not feasible, and for people who wouldn’t understand those full and nuanced explanations.

It does NOT accurately reflect actual trans experience, is NOT intended to, and is DEFINITELY NOT the entirety of our thinking on the matter.

So when you mistake it as what (and all) we really believe, and decide to mock or discredit our identities by joking around about “what if I think I’m a penguin trapped in a human body?”, “what if I’m a black guy trapped in a jewish guy’s body?”, or “what if I’m a robot trapped in an organic body?”, you are making an ass of yourself. You haven’t dropped some wicked awesome truth bomb that totally proves how crazy and irrational trans people are. All you’ve successfully managed to do is point out that a simplified, dumbed-down metaphor is simple and dumb (which, I might add, is simplified and dumbed-down for the purpose of helping out simple-minded dummies like you). Congratulations!

When trans people use this metaphor, it is not because we don’t understand the complexity and nuance of gender and sex and how they work. It’s because we need to cope with how many of you don’t understand it.

Which, of course, is when we even use it all. Which since around 1993 or so has been “basically never”. Much like “politically correct”, this is a concept and phrasing that has LONG since stopped being used by those who developed it and only continues to be perpetuated as a “what trans people say about themselves” thing in the minds of those attempting to discredit or mock us. The metaphor, though originally developed by the trans community as a simplified means of explaining our identities to uncomprehending cis people, has since just become an appropriated, tired, zombie cliche that only gets trotted out when someone wants to make fun of us or talk about how totally ridiculous trans people are. Like that ever-so-lovely episode of South Park.

We know it’s become a cliche, and we know it gets used against us. As you should have picked up from the previous paragraphs, we’re not the idiots here. So we don’t really use it any more. People believing this is the mentality that trans people actually have are demonstrating a profound disconnection from the reality of the contemporary trans community. I mean, I suppose it’s useful in that way… as a red flag indicating that whoever is using it as a means of articulating their views on trans issues has virtually zero actual education on the subject and has simply cribbed their ramshackle comprehension from whatever scraps of pop culture’s interpretation of transgenderism they’ve managed to absorb over the course of their non-cave-dwelling lives. But not only is “trapped in a man’s body” not what we actually think, it’s no longer even what we actually say.

Also… about your penguins, black people or robots trapped in the wrong body… that doesn’t really happen. Or at least not in the same way. Your “clever” analogies don’t actually exist, but trans people do (and always have). While that can’t in and of itself tell you why your analogy is way way wayyy off the mark, it should at least hint to you that it doesn’t quite apply, and as such isn’t the brilliant, cutting insight you thought it was. Transsexuality has a particular etiology, as one of many possible natural variations that can occur in human gender. Such variations do not occur in terms of one having an identity as a robot or whatever because such identities are not connected to one of the underlying structures of human identity. Roughly half the human population has a female gender identity. The other approximate half has a male gender identity. There are no humans with a robot identity.

There aren’t even any robots capable of having an identity.

The idea that there is a neurobiological structure wired into human brains that predisposes us to a given gender identity as part of the process of sexual differentiation is a theory consistent with what we already understand about human beings and sex, that is supported by what scientific evidence we’ve so far collected (I will be doing another post soon talking about this evidence), and that makes sense. Gender identity, as a hypothesis, is reasonable. The idea of us having an underlying, neurobiological robot or species or racial identity is not, and these things don’t generally occur, while gender variance DOES occur, and always has occurred, throughout human history and across disparate human cultures (what varies is only how it is expressed, identified and accommodated).

Now, it would be necessary here to acknowledge furries and otherkin, many of whom do claim things like a “species identity”, or may similarly express the idea of being “an X trapped in a Y’s body”, or otherwise use (or perhaps appropriate) metaphors and terminologies related to transgenderism. Yes, I believe such identities are worth respecting. Everyone has the right to self-identify as they wish. But nonetheless, the etiologies are pretty different. Furries and otherkin do not occur with the same consistency across culture and history as does gender variance, no similar scientific evidence exists supporting the idea of a neurobiological origin to a variant “species identity” (or a species identity at all), the way these identifications play out are clearly much more closely tied to one’s cultural environment and cues (and more strongly mediated by them), and the idea of a species identity would, as a hypothesis, require rejecting or overhauling a considerable amount of what we presently understand about the human mind, self, evolution, and species itself.

To put it more simply: while furries and otherkin have the right to their identification (and even body modification should it become available), the current evidence suggests a much more socio-cultural and psychological etiology as contrasted to the likely neurobiological origin of things like gender identity and sexual orientation. This does not mean furries or otherkin are a “lesser” kind of identity, or that they deserve to be mocked, denigrated or invalidated, only that there are significant differences at play, and they are not directly comparable phenomena to transsexuality.

You see? Complicated and nuanced. Ridiculously so. Headache-inducingly so. Hence the simplifications like “man trapped in a woman’s body” we’ll often provide… you know, so people don’t have to constantly link you to gigantic and confusing blog posts just to answer your casual questions. And what I’ve written here does not even scratch the surface.

I mean that, you know, about not scratching the surface. It actually fails to even begin going into the full depth of what gender identity is and how it works. And people will still disagree with me over a bunch of this! People will disagree over my assertion that transsexuality and furries/otherkin are definitively distinct phenomena. As much as I’ve tried to be respectful about what I consider most important (the right to self-determination, self-identification and bodily autonomy), some furries or otherkin may be offended by what I’ve written here, and feel like I have indeed suggested there’s is a less valid identity (which is honestly not what I meant, by the way). Some people may strongly disagree with how much I feel that pure socio-constructivist theories of gender are countered by the existing evidence (though I support the idea that gender is socially and culturally mediated, particularly in terms of how it is expressed, and I disagree with hard-line essentialists at least as much as I disagree with hard-line constructivists). The neurological theory of gender identity is by no means proven, and some people will think the evidence is far too scant to even favour that hypothesis. Some people will think I’m overreaching in terms of the conclusions I draw from that. Some people will disagree with my assertion that gender variance occurs universally, and will instead say that cultural environment heavily modifies our experience of it to the point that the non-normative gender identifications of certain cultures (like two-spirit, hjira or kathoey) are not comparable to contemporary transsexuality (though my position is more that these identifications simply contained -amongst others- the individuals who within our cultural context would have identified as such). Etc.

So yeah… given that three paragraphs written to just address one of the many problems with your “critique” of the “trapped in a man’s body” concept is enough to hint at that many complications? That many points of contention and debate? I hope that should be suggestive of just how much deeper transgender theory goes than what you’ve assumed from an outdated cliche. I hope you can overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect long enough to get an inkling of how many volumes could be written on what you don’t know about transsexuality.

I guess what especially irritates me about this kind of thing is how much it connects to privilege. One of the most tedious effects of privilege is how an individual can end up being taught to believe that their opinions, whatsoever the topic, instantly have weight and worth. A person at a sufficient nexus of privilege along sufficiently numerous axes of oppression can end up spending their whole lives experiencing consistent deference and respect for their voice and opinions, always being listened to. The take away effect is thinking that no matter how little you actually understand a subject, how little you’ve researched it, how obviously it’s something with which the other party (in this case a trans person) has significantly more experience and intimate knowledge than you, how little you even give a damn, you still claim the right to opine on the subject, and act like your opinions are at least as worthwhile as everyone else’s, if not more so. Or as Asimov put it, the false notion that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.

Or just assuming that we’re all as ignorant as you are. And that whatever simplifications you’ve picked up along the way and somehow managed to understand, which is to say, the extent of your knowledge on the subject, is the extent of our knowledge too.

Really, cissexists and transphobes who scold trans people for thinking we’re “women trapped in men’s bodies” are pretty much the same thing as Creationists scolding evolutionary biologists for thinking a crocodile can give birth to a duck.

“What if I think I’m Spiderman trapped in a normal human’s body? Can I get surgery to get web-shooters installed in my wrists? Hurr hurr hurr” = “Well then why are there still monkeys? Hurr hurr hurr”

So please just shush.



  1. Anders says

    Reminds me of what George Box said: “All models are wrong. Some are useful.” Is your contention that ‘trapped in a man’s body’ was never useful or that it has outlived its usefulness? What other good metaphors are there out there? Can we collect all metaphors and get a good grip on the subjective feeling? Or is it like me wondering what cramps may be like? It requires parts I simply don’t have.

    To hear, one must be silent. I’ll hush now.

    • Rasmus says

      I don’t know either, but I’ve read somewhere (here probably) that trans people are statistically much more likely than cis people to be homosexual, so I guess that the statistical distribution of sexual orientation is one thing that breaks the “trapped in a body of the other sex” model of trans people.

      Then there’s the whole issue of socialization. Everything you do shapes your brain, especially early in life.

      • says

        Or it simply suggests that whatever triggers non-normative variance in gender is not directly connected to whatever triggers non-normative variance in sexual orientation. That it’s two different “systems”. So to end up a straight trans woman, you’d need two different things to go “wrong” in neural development rather than just one. We can attribute the fact that a higher percentage of trans women are straight than cis men are gay to a mutual causal thingy, meaning that if one thing goes “wrong” another is more likely to than otherwise.

        • sjrosewater says

          I’m curious, do we have any accurate percentages on the sexual orientation of trans people, or is it mostly speculation. I’d heard that it’s split 50/50 gynophilic to androphilic for trans women.

          • says

            I recall most studies indicate it’s something like 30% of trans women are primarily androphilic, 33% bisexual or pansexual, and 37% primarily gynophilic, (with some percentage being asexual or demisexual too, of course).

  2. says

    People will disagree over my assertion that transsexuality and furries/otherkin are definitively distinct phenomena.

    The interesting thing about this is some peopel will call them valid and other equally invalid.

    Transistion is sort of available see here. I think a significant part of the difference is that he only wants to take being a tiger so far. I won’t count his job, since he has to make a livign to pay for all this work he’s having done, but he wants to look like a tiger and eats raw meat, but seems to have little interest in stopping speaking or living in the woods full time and killing deer with knives or whatever is deemed a reasonable substitute for tiger’s natural equipment. Even otherkin who take it pretty far (and no one takes it farther than this guy) don’t really want to give up their human identity.

    I am curious as to whether you think insurance should pay for otherkin body mods of this sort.

    • says

      I’d want to see more evidence and studies done first. Such as: is there any comparable dysphoria associated with furry / otherkin identities? Does this dysphoria lead to significant risk to health (suicide, etc.) or impairment of quality of life? Does body modification provide significant, concrete, identifiable improvements in quality of life and mental health? Are there other treatments that lead to better outcomes?

      In the case of gender transition, we already know the answers to all of that, and it comes out overwhelmingly in favour of suggesting that yes, transition should be covered as the ideal treatment for GID, which does pose significant medical harm. But given that we don’t have any such information yet regarding such other body modifications…

      • leftwingfox says

        Thanks for that comment Natalie, it clarified some of my own muddled thinking on the issue.

        I’d disagreed with your original note about respect, and other-kin, largely because it is such a cultural and media-driven phenomenon.

        To put that in perspective, I’m a self-identified furry. I don’t see myself as a fox trapped in a human body, but rather I feel my identification with foxes is a way for me to work through the personality traits which I see through that “mirror”.

        I’ve always viewed otherkin more as a faith, like religion. To that end, I don’t actually agree with their opinions, and might argue against those beliefs publicly, but as long as they aren’t harming others in their pursuit of happiness, it’s none of my damn businesses what they do to themselves.

        Body modification is such a risky intervention though; I just worry that the first few to go through with it may never be satisfied with the results (Much in the way certain celebrities seem to have channelled their own self-image issues into repeated plastic surgeries).

      • says

        I don’t know about any other Furries, but I can feel ears and a tail. I’m pretty much your average house cat (cleverly disguised as a human). I’m about as feline as you can GET while having a human body.

        Would I opt for a body-mod to add furry features? Yeah, I’d do it. I’d totally do it. In a fucking heartbeats.

        *headbonks Natalie*

        I know it’s a horrid metaphor, but it’s simple enough that most people are going to be able to grasp the concept. I’ve used another metaphor, probably just as awful: “the building (body) doesn’t match the blueprints (brain).” (Therefore, renovate the building to match the plans!)

    • Sas says

      Most insurance companies in the US won’t cover any transition care (including HRT in many cases), and yet we still have to get doctors’ permission for our treatment.

      Stalking Cat may not have his mods covered by insurance but at least he didn’t have to jump through medical hoops to get them.

  3. embertine says

    I wondered about this, as I haven’t heard that metaphor used for quite a while. I guess, as you say, it works as a way of trying to get through to The Cisstupid™ the suffering and feeling of disconnection that (I imagine) is experienced by people with GID.

    I have to ask the assembled Reeders about an experience I had with a young trans friend which has been troubling me for a while but I don’t want to be tl:dr so I’m not sure how to write it. Thinking commencing.

      • embertine says

        OK. *deep breath*

        I am a member of a web forum dedicated to a particular fantasy author, and have been for many years. The forum is a very inclusive community, queer friendly, and has members of all ages from all over the world.

        A while ago, when I was in my early twenties, I befriended a girl who was in her late teens. She and I had quite a few views in common, so we private-messaged each other regularly (I took care to maintain some distance as she was younger than me and I was out as bi on the board and didn’t want to be seen as a predator).

        She lived at home, was still in school and came from a fundamentalist Christian household in America. We never spoke on the phone or met up in person (I am from the UK). After about two years of correspondence she told me she had a secret – I’m sure you can guess what it was.

        Her family were becoming worried about her because she was into dance and read a lot of fantasy and they were concerned that their “son” was gay. I was a bit out of my depth, being neither trans* nor from a religious background, but I tried to be supportive without giving her advice which would have been most likely unhelpful and ill-informed.

        She asked me if I thought she was being deceitful by “pretending” to be a girl on the board, as her online persona was female. I only ever knew her by her screenname and she told me it was the name she would choose if/when she transitioned. I stated that I thought she was not being deceitful because her female persona actually was her true self, and it would in some ways be more misleading if people knew she was trans* because some of them would probably start treating her differently.

        I guess my question is, do you think I did the right thing? Would it have been better for her to come out as trans* so that she could have the support of the community (which she almost certainly would have got, it is a nice place)? Was she being deceitful (I still think not)?

        I think I worry about her a lot, not just because I doubt my own actions at the time, but because she disappeared abruptly a few months later and, as I didn’t know her AMAB name I have no way of finding out what happened to her. Reeding™ your posts, Natalie, has made me realise more starkly than before the genuine danger she could have been in, and I feel I should have done more. It preys on my mind because I can’t do anything about it now.

        ARGH I hate feeling helpless and it was so long ago that she could be anywhere by now, including six feet under. She was a really sweet kid.

        • Emily says

          You were right in saying that it was not deceitful of her to go by her female persona.

          I think you were wrong in advising her against coming out. I would have taken the tact that it would be her decision, and I would have given my assessment of how the community there would have taken it, and reiterated my support for her.

          She abruptly disappeared? I do find abrupt disappearances, even online, to be worrying. I hope she’s alright.

          May I ask what fantasy author this forum is for?

          • embertine says

            Thanks for your feedback. While I was never pushy towards her, I can see that what she probably needed was completely unconditional support and no advice at all. Unfortunately I am a problem solver, even when I really should just shut up! This is a lesson for me for the future.

            It was JRRT. 😉

          • Emily says

            Yeah. Sometimes a problem can’t just be solved and the only correct answer is to just give unconditional support to that person. When it comes to trans issues (or any socially stigmatized issue, really), I’d say that support should come first, and “problem solving” second.

        • says

          For people who are “trans-curious”, the Internet can be a great way of practising. You don’t have to worry too much what you look like; and if the worst happens, you can be reasonably confident that you can get out and never have to go back.

          Being accepted as your own identified gender on the Internet can also give a tremendous boost to your confidence about trying it in real life.

          And now you’ve reminded me, I stopped using an Internet forum awhile back; and I really ought to pop back there and prove I still exist, just in case anyone is concerned for me.

  4. MichaelD says

    Bit of a quibble but it depends if someone says “It’s like being a man trapped in a woman’s body” then you would be wrong…. it’d be a simile. 😛

    Cough… bad joke and I should be the last person to make it. I’m always surprised how often people like to argue against metaphors.

    • Vene says

      I kind of wonder if this is because it’s easier to argue against a (knowingly) imperfect metaphor than it is to argue against the complicated, nuanced position the metaphor is simplifying. Alternatively, they’re really fucking stupid and think the metaphor is the nuanced position.

      • says

        I assume the latter. As said, our world is filled with people who ascribe their simplistic understanding of evolution to everyone else and use it to challenge biologists with questions like “why are there still monkeys?”. And privilege gives people a HUGE boost in terms of assuming their opinions are automatically well-educated and worthwhile. Why WOULDN’T we see similarly arrogant ignorance in terms of an issue as misunderstood as transgenderism?

  5. McKenzie says

    I remember reading at one point someone criticising treatments involved in transitioning by replacing man or woman with “horse”. It was supposed to be reducto ad absurdum, the reader was supposed to go “that’s ridiculous!” but I found myself thinking “yeah, that sounds reasonable, if someone truly identifies as a horse, they’re currently feeling terrible because they’re not living as a horse and they would be happier if they began living as a horse I’m pretty sure we should let them live as a horse.”

    • McKenzie says

      except I thought it in a way that on a second read through doesn’t come across as condescending to the nth degree

    • says

      Sounds like that writer was an ass.

      But yes, if there actually are any people who feel very, very strongly that they can’t be happy unless they become a horse, then I’d be astonished (not least for the reasons Natalie mentions) but I’d have to at least consider the possibility that they’re right. They know more about their own feelings than I know about their feelings.

      Not that my opinion ought to matter to this hypothetical person anyway.

      • McKenzie says

        Incidentally I think the entire point that the writer was making was that they weren’t an ass at all, but were human 😉

  6. busterggi says

    I’ve always figured the whole neurobiological explaination is the only one that makes sense. When you get to the bottom line the most important sexual organ is the brain, everything else isbells & whistles.

  7. Anders says

    So… I guess this means the ball is back where it always ends up. In your court. If you want cis people to get an inkling of what trans experience is, you’re the ones who have to do it. It might be good for strategic reasons if nothing else.

    But not all of you.

    I read on twitter a month ago a woman who claimed all trans people were trans from birth. If that’s the case then we’re in a world of shit. Because we cis people don’t know where we’re going and trans people don’t know where we’re coming from. But if that’s not the case, then you need people who have been both.

    If that’s a priority.

    So, yeah. Something like that.

    • says

      I don’t see why it’s necessary to have “been” of a particular identity yourself in order to understand and accept people of that identity. As a cis person I will never have the kind of understanding of what it means to be trans* as a trans* person does, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do my best to learn and understand as best I can. That’s just basic human empathy – we should be able to exercise that toward anyone. As a woman I don’t ever expect a cis man to fully understand everything about being a woman, but I still expect them to examine their own privilege and try to understand.

  8. Emily Somers says

    I appreciated this one, because there’s been a great deal of consternation within the transgender community as to how certain tropes have become the explicative norm, and how individuals who wish to discredit us can manipulate those tropes in order to mock, ridicule, or somehow ‘undo’ us.

    The “horse” argument is a primary example. Or, to think of one RadFem blog I’m familiar with — the author routinely changes her ‘species’ identity in order to, supposedly, parody a trans person’s deeply held sense that he or she is not the gender identity assigned at birth. “What if I believe, deep inside, I’m a horse? And I want to get plastic surgery to give me a mane?” (Go for it, My Little Pony). “I am a Panda. I demand your address me with monochromatic pronouns.” If they’re feeling particularly frisky, they’ll cite examples like Catwoman — Julie Newmar apparently seeking procedures to develop cat-like physical attributes in order to make more ‘congruent’ her inner identification and outer appearance. People of this thinking love to ridicule terms like congruency, identification, and transition . . . since they consider such premises to be either false consciousness or cute psychological term to excuse politically bad behaviour.

    The horse argument has been used in other contexts, of course. With the arrival of same-sex marriage, the conservative right began sounding the wailing siren — but what if someone wants to marry a horse? Likewise, the anti-trans version of the horse argument follows the same premise: create a fallacious analogy by magnifying a hypothetical extreme and apply this measure to what which one wishes to devalue. It’s a ‘slippery slope’ argument employed by those who pander to the worst of fearmongering and shrill paranoia.

    The “born in the wrong body” metaphor (one which I still use and find somewhat agreeable to my experience — especially when a red hot laser is blasting away at my face) does have an honoured tradition in trans discourse. Jan Morris’ prescient /Conundrum/ in fact makes it the central metaphor for describing her difficulties. I think it was especially important to the first wave of gender transitioners who — as Natalie argues — needed some kind of discursive framework for explaining their situation and rationalising — perhaps for themselves as well as for the Cis Land — what exactly they are *experiencing* (not just ‘feeling’, as people dismissively will say.)

    I do get why this trope has become tediously reductionistic. I can see how genderqueer people find it annoying — since one could argue there are no wrong bodies, just wrong attitudes towards those bodies. And, true, “I feel like a woman inside” is the kind of phrase that gender theorists can mock, since it seems naively essentialistic and, well, just kind of namby-pamby.

    But transsexuals are in a bind. For many of us, who couldn’t announce our gender identity at a young age, we need to undo years of social programming that more or less demands the improbability of a ‘boy’ thinking ‘he’ is a ‘girl’ — and vice versa. Given the elusive nature of gender dysphoria for many people — an intense sense of despair without readily being able to name, address, or locate that despair — a narrative framework for both self-recognition and self-expression becomes crucial.

    I’ve read many memoirs of different kinds of illnesses that employ metaphors that, although cliche, are nonetheless powerful to their authors. The cancer survivor’s “battle”. The “journey” away from addiction. The “curse” of Alzheimer’s. Far be it from me to tell an author was language he or she can use in the autonomous act of just trying to sort things out. I wrote about this in a forthcoming article for /Mechademia/ about the beautiful MtF manga /Tsurubara-tsurubara/. Throughout the transition story, a metaphor of reincarnation is used: the main character was female in a past life, and that spirit has ‘carried over’ into the male body, creating a terribly suicidal incongruency. But the manga is very careful to point out that whether or not reincarnation is ‘true’ — but that the IDEA of reincarnation becomes the formulative ideation necessary to begin gender transition. Likewise, the IDEA of reincarnation provides an alternative framework to what she’s being told: “You just need a girlfriend” . . . “you’re just really gay and can’t deal with it . . .” that various authority figures in the manga impose upon her.

    But we do need to recognize the limitations of this kind of language. And, also, that it doesn’t necessary represent all experiences. (I do get the ‘wrong body’ metaphor, as I say, very strongly. But I also dislike certain trends in the trans community towards infighting — of rebuking what other trans people say in articulating their experiences. (I’m not suggesting Natalie is doing this, of course. I’m just thinking of some recent tweet battles picking on some things Chaz has said. I am not a great admirer of Chaz’s way of presenting trans experiences, but I do appreciate that he’s out there doing it. And I might gently critique some of his formulations, but it’s not for me to decide what tropes best explain where he wants to be. I’d no sooner tell Joanna Newsom that she should try singing in a less nasally voice . . .

    The problem is how these tropes become inverted against us. And so Natalie’s main point here is crucial and well appreciated: we’re not naive about what is happening to us. Not in the least.

    • Anders says

      an intense sense of despair without readily being able to name, address, or locate that despair

      I have to reformulate your thoughts to integrate them properly.

      Something is wrong with my life, something is desperately wrong with me. And I have to find out what that wrong is and I can’t and nobody can help me.

      Something like that? Am I on the wrong track?

      Sounds like a nightmare. *shudders*

      Those of y’all who are on the path of transitioning, do you ever have nightmares where you have de-transitioned? As always, no one is forced to divulge and I certainly won’t hold it against you if you don’t want to share your dreams with a random guy on the Internet. But I wonder… I have so many questions. I have to understand.

      • Sas says

        Those of y’all who are on the path of transitioning, do you ever have nightmares where you have de-transitioned?

        Not de-transitioned as in suddenly forced to quit my HRT and have to assume a male identity, but I have had nightmares where I’m suddenly back to the age before I transitioned and I’m shocked to have lost everything I worked for. Most of my gender-related nightmares revolve around being rejected romantically for being trans. But, that’s the sort of nightmare I get like, maybe once every couple of years. Normally my nightmares aren’t related to being trans at all.

        • Megan says

          Same with me. I don’t have nightmares about detransitioning so much as I have them about being stuck the way I was before I transitioned in the first place.

      • A. Person says

        I think your reformation pretty much captures it.

        As for nightmares, I am pre-transition, so I don’t dream about de-transitioning, but being unable to transition or terrible consequences resulting from coming out.

        Mostly my nightmares tend not to have gender identity content, but do feature that sort of dread that you describe. I am trapped in some sort of situation that I have no control over, and anything that I do makes things worse.

      • earth & stars says

        …yeah, Anders, that’s about the size of it. Or it was for me, anyhow. Just reading your reformulation made me start shaking.

        I’ve had two rounds of reconstructive surgery in the last six weeks and the family friend who’s putting me up while I’m in Vancouver had only seen me in the occasional family Christmas photo since I was fourteen. She admitted that those photos always worried her- you looked so sad, she said. All I can say is yeah; I don’t have what it takes to describe that nightmarish feeling accurately. It’s still too close, even after years of testosterone and multiple surgeries have almost eliminated my body dysphoria.

        Maybe the best way to describe it is as a war story I can’t tell yet.

        • Anders says

          I’m sorry I got you shaking earth & stars. Should I have put up a trigger warning? I’m still new to this.

          • earth & stars says

            Ach, no, don’t feel bad and don’t worry about me; I do really appreciate your thought about trigger warnings, but this wasn’t something I would have thought would hit me on such a visceral level.

            And in an odd way, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be reminded of the old days sometimes, if only because seeing just how much better things are now is helpful.

          • Anders says

            *brings hot cocoa anyway*

            Anyway, IANATP but isn’t that feeling of isolation, of no one else can help me key? I did research on a new disorder that had slipped through the cracks when they constructed DSM and ICD and what struck me was how relieved the patients were when we said “yeah, we know what that is.” We couldn’t do anything to help them, except give some vague advice, but just being taken seriously and have someone tell them “we believe you, this is real, you are not alone” meant the world.

            And for trans people, knowing that there are success stories out there, that trans people are not necessarily relegated to predators or punchlines. I think Natalie wrote something about that, but I may be mistaken.

  9. says

    Recently a friend of mine (MtF) got annoyed at my attempt to understand via metaphor. She found the one I was using to be lacking.

    She used the metaphor of handed-ness and told me to imagine that humans were born with only one hand, their right hand. For most people, not a problem, not even something they ever really have to stop and consider. But for left handed folks…well, many can probably still function, but they will go through life knowing something is wrong and things just aren’t the way they should be. Their instincts will all be off and they will have to learn rather than have the benefit of any kind of innate understanding. They are different, and their differences will likely be noticed by their peers and they will be tormented because let’s face it, humans are assholes.

    Now imagine there is a way to take your right arm and put it where your left is and essentially ‘fix’ this problem. But, since everyone ‘knows’ humans are right handed, you’ll be demonized for even considering such an operation. And if you do get the operation, you’ll still be considered some kind of pervert for not sticking with how you were born, even though your body is now as it should be and you function better with your arm on the other side of your body. Some people are so offended by you messing with ‘nature’s plan’ that they’ll kill you if they find out.

    It’s as vitally important and intrinsic to who you are as what hand you use, and as completely unimportant and meaningless as what hand your neighbor uses.

    No metaphor is accurate, but this one did help me with realizing just how… I’m not sure what word I want to use here, maybe urgent? an issue it really is for her.

    • says

      My mother in law is currently learning to walk again.

      Outside of our little family, it really doesn’t matter to anyone whether or not she walks. It doesn’t affect anyone else’s life or really impact their well-being. So nobody should really care.

      But it’s so vitally important to her that anyone with an ounce of compassion and/or empathy should be shouting down anyone who suggests that we just strap my mother-in-law down in a wheelchair for the rest of her days.

      If anything, that’s what my friend has been helping me understand. My previous stance towards naysayers has been more along the lines of ‘it’s what they want and it doesn’t hurt you, so why do you care?’. Now it’s more, ‘it’s what they need and what kind of screwed up person are you that you aren’t wholeheartedly in support?’

  10. Anders says

    Thinking of this has made me wonder… Natalie, you want to be an author. Do you ever worry that you’ll have trouble describing cis people accurately?

    • says

      No, because unlike cis people who can easily ignore trans people, trans experiences and trans culture, I have to constantly live neck deep in yours.

      That’s part of how privilege works. Privileged party can get by with knowing next to nothing about the marginalized identity. Marginalized party needs to understand everything about the privileged just in order to survive.

  11. Nice Ogress says

    Freethought Blogs needs a ‘like’ button for posts.

    I don’t necessarily have a lot I can contribute to this conversation, nor do I always feel the need to speak up, but I learn so damn much just reading it.

    • Jo says

      Totally agree. Maybe I’m just too used to Facebook but there are all sorts of blogs (FTB, several blogs on patheos) where I don’t have anything much to contribute, but just want to “like” all over the place (not just posts, but particularly hilarious/made-of-win comments too)

  12. andigrant says

    There’s a passage in Julia Serano’s “Whipping Girl” which I personally think was a turning point in my acceptance of my gender identity. I’m never going to be able to quote it word-for-word, but my recollection of it is ‘The English language fails to capture my personal understanding of these events. If I said I “saw” myself as female, I would be denying the fact that I was consciously aware of my physical maleness at all times. Saying I wished to be a girl erased how much being female felt right to me on the deepest, most profound level of my being. I could say that I felt like a girl, but that would give the impression that I knew how other girls felt. And if I had said I was supposed to be a girl, it would imply that I had some vast understanding of the grand scheme of the universe, which I did not.’

    That got through my self-denial. I read that and realized that despite the fact that I was unsure that I was trans, being utterly 100% sure was probably never going to be the case, and all I had to go on was my inherent understanding that _something_ was the cause for the feelings I’d been struggling with for years. It got me to the point where I stopped saying “This is ridiculous and illogical” and started saying “What I know is that I have these thoughts and feelings and emotions, I’m pretty sure most people DON’T think about this day in and day out for decades, I need to start exploring this instead of suppressing it.”

    But try to explain to someone 10+ years of grappling with an inherent sense of wrongness and the decision to transition based on that, and you get blank stares. Because cis people don’t do that.

  13. says

    Eek! (I thought this might happen. That’ll teach me.)

    I’m not sure I want to leave pingbacks everywhere, so I’ll just own up to this being mine, to having started a blog, and that I seem to suffer from horrible verbosity when inspired by a damn fine post like the one here from Miss Natalie, which I used for a bit of a riff. Apologies in advance.

    • says

      Would you rather I deleted your pingbacks if they appear? Because I can do that. I just usually approve them as a way for blogs that link me to get a bit of extra traffic.

  14. Dennis says

    get some of you’rs anger. But, I am a CIS white guy who is learning. I am not interested in the physical aspects, I am educated.

    But, I live near Baltimore and the recent attack on a Bi- woman is aful.

    ‘re comment page sucks. But anyway. You are teaching me things. Thank you.


      • Cassandra Caligaria (Cipher), OM says

        Is it bad that I’m tempted to reread through all recent posts and comments til I figure out just what in R’lyeh he’s even talking about?

          • Cassandra Caligaria (Cipher), OM says

            You know, he well may be! I thought he was claiming that you recently attacked a bi- woman, which … you know… sounded unlikely to me… And he was derailing bigtime from this post (like me now!) by complaining about it here… and therefore I was quite prepared to kick his shins mightily when I figured out just what was going on. But yes, I see now that this is the nice kind of incomprehensible.

          • Anders says

            Going through it line by line:

            get some of you’rs anger.

            He understands that you’re angry and partly why.

            But, I am a CIS white guy who is learning.

            He’s cis, so you can’t expect him to understand everything yet. But he’s learning and willing to learn.

            I am not interested in the physical aspects, I am educated.

            He’s not after trans woman for sex, he’s not a ‘chaser’.

            But, I live near Baltimore and the recent attack on a Bi- woman is aful.

            Someone attacked a bisexual woman in Baltimore, and his outrage prompted him to seek out this blog? Either looking for LGBTA in general or mistaking bisexuality and transsexuality?

            U‘re comment page sucks. But anyway. You are teaching me things. Thank you.

            I don’t know if it’s us he doesn’t like or the layout, but he’s learning things here and that’s good.

            Something like that.

          • Emily says

            I think he means he doesn’t like the threaded nature of the comments. ( Most are linear )

            My thought is that while it can be harder to spot new comments, it does promote more conversation. I like it.

          • Anders says

            Hi, Emily!

            You here for your new fix as well? 🙂

            What I miss most is the ability to edit your own posts. I often submit and then see some horrible mistake, and then I post a corrective message, and that contains some… and so on until I have like 60 posts in a thread with 61 posts.

  15. ik says

    Incidentally, trans-ethnic and otherkin people _claim_ to exist. While I am highly skeptical, and think that ~80% of them at least are appropriating assholes, I am not inclined to instantly deny what they say is their lived experience.

  16. If It's Not About the Body Why Do You Need Surgery? says

    How is “neurobiology” different from “psychological”, given that any difference in thinking must necessarily have a chemical difference somewhere in the brain? Two people can not have purely identical brains and yet different thoughts.

    Also, brains can and do change. Every little thought you have, every little stimuli that registers with your mind changes your brain chemistry a little bit.

    And then if “having a gender identity of the opposite sex” is not equivalent to “being trapped in the wrong body” and if “gender” is a mental rather than physical thing(I’ve heard “sex” (physical anatomy) and “gender” (mind type) being differentiated along these lines) then why the need for surgery? Why not just be a man that happens to have a physically female body or a woman that happens to have a physically male body and be happy with it if it doesn’t have to do with “being trapped in the wrong body”? If it’s about how you think and not how you are physically then nobody is stopping you from thinking and acting like a “man” or a “woman” so what’s the problem?


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